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|17-year-old burn victim
A 17-year old boy, over the weekend, was burnt while in police custody at the Vigilance Police Station and has been hospitalised with burns to his left side ribs area and hand. In a video seen by this newspaper, the teenager blames the police for his injury. He named a policeman who allegedly was cajoling him to admit to being in possession of a gun but in declining to make such an admission a scuffle broke out between the two, and the police took a lit lighter to his body. According to the teenager, who is a fisherman, after he was light afire he took off his jersey, ran outside, and threw it in water; and was advised by the policeman to admit to burning himself when the ambulance came and was beaten to repeat that story.
The Police, in a statement, contradicted the teenager’s account of what happened. According to the Force at “about 10:10 Sunday morning, the teenager was in custody and alone in the lockups.” The Force reported that “Screams were heard coming from the lockups and when a rank made checks, he observed the jersey that the teenager was wearing was on fire. The EMT from Melanie Fire Station was summoned and [the teenager] was treated.” Two ranks at the Vigilance Police Station were placed under close arrest, and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is “investigating the matter, ” the Police said in its statement.
The teenager, “was questioned and related to the police that he was given a lighter by another person who was in custody (on the bench), and he lit same and was playing with it and his jersey caught afire,” the Force said. The police also said statements were taken from persons who were at the station and witnessed when the incident occurred.
A physician commenting on the video said to Village Voice the burns do not have the appearance of self-infliction and questioned the story of the teenager being in possession of a lighter while being in police custody. He said the stories and explanations given by the police sound ridiculous because how does the police expect the public to believe the teenager was left with a cigarette lighter given the potential to create fire.
Standard international policing expects persons held by the police should have their safety and security guaranteed while under the protection of the police. This security and safety should transcend self-harm and harm from others. It is basic protocol for the police in securing their own safety that it requires persons held in custody to be frisked from weapons or implements that could cause harm to themselves and others.
Whether the victim did it or not, whenever persons are in custody they are the wards of the state and the state/police is responsible for their safety and wellbeing. The Police would not have held a person in custody with a gun, knife or cutlass. If indeed the teenager was in possession of a lighter, it was the police’s responsibility to remove it from his person. Several allegations of inmates setting various detention centres afire, notably the Lusignan lock up and Camp Street prison, should have served as warning.
Acting Police Commissioner, Clifton Hicken, in a separate statement said, “If any rank is found to have breached the SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] then regulations will be enforced and/or if any rank act independently outside of the law, then that rank will be dealt with condignly and face the full brunt of the law.”
Meanwhile a number of bloggers across social media are expressing viewpoints about police excesses and brutality. One such blogger said “… y’all really think we the citizens are fools to buy that nancy story…hell no,” whilst another said “when the police force is also using violence and cruelty as immediate reaction to whatever displeases them then no one and nowhere is safe.”